By Halle Mason
I would be the first to admit that I was skeptical when I heard Pride & Prejudice and Zombies was coming out as a film. People either love zombie movies or they hate them, but I’m the exception who had never been to a zombie movie before. I thought PPZ would be a detriment to the good Austen name. But after reading the book and seeing the movie twice, I have nothing but positive feelings for the spin-off, which stars the newest Cinderella, Lily James, with the devilishly charming Sam Riley.
1. The Book is Excellent
I’ll tell you why the book is excellent. It’s because the author, Seth Grahame-Smith, supplemented his own writing with Austen’s. All of her wonderful, rich language remained intact, with the added intrigue of zombies (or “dreadfuls,” as the book calls them). The zombie layer actually supplied another social structure to the complex hierarchy of the Regency Era.
Not only were Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley out of Jane and Elizabeth Bennet’s league, but suddenly the fact that the girls were trained in China rather than Japan was also a mark against them—for an “accomplished woman” must have all the delicate social graces such as a thorough knowledge of music, singing, dancing, drawing, the modern languages, as well as training in the deadly arts, as Darcy the Zombie Slayer mentions. The wealthy trained in Japan, while the wise sought masters in China. Naturally, Darcy and his sister Georgiana trained in Japan, as did their aunt Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
Grahame-Smith follows the original plot of Pride and Prejudice, but he doesn’t impede on Austen’s voice with his own. I didn’t feel any spots of tension in the text—probably part of what made it a New York Times bestseller. All of the important speeches, both of Darcy’s proposals, they’re all the same, which is important, because one has to be very careful when you play with the work of a cult icon like Austen. Now on to the movie.
I’ll also be very honest about the movie. It was more or less true to the book, but with more interaction with Wickham, which was to be expected to distinguish it from the 2005 adaptation. The first time I saw PPZ, I didn’t like it. I struggled with Sam Riley’s raspy voice and the gaping plot hole that is Wickham as an undead who enters Rosings Park, supposedly the safest place in all of England. The beginning of the movie highlights the extensive security measures, yet he slips through countless private events unnoticed?
2. Sam Riley
About a week or so after I saw the movie, I found myself rewatching the trailer for the sole purpose of listening to Sam Riley’s voice again. I think I struggled with a new Darcy in my life. I’ve loved Matthew Macfayden and Colin Firth for as long as I can remember, and it’s in our nature to dislike change. But once I had time to reflect, I think Sam performed spectacularly well, and I think fans of the film would agree with me in saying he’s pretty easy on the eyes.
3. Douglas Booth
4. (But really, Douglas Booth)
5. Lily James is a Badass Lizzy Bennet
Lily James brought all the same sass that Keira Knightley did to the role of Elizabeth Bennet, but with the added bonus of an intense fight scene with Mr. Darcy in the midst of his first proposal. This scene is so subtly seductive because their warrior code allowed them to defy the barriers of touch and physically fight, rather than just using the bite of their tongues.
I think Austen would have loved seeing Elizabeth be able to physically defend herself, rather than solely rely on her wit. Remember when Darcy said she was “barely tolerable?” (Watch your back, man.) If you remember, Austen’s character of Emma was her only heroine of independent means, but both Jane and Elizabeth Bennet are credited for their aversion to marrying without affection–this disdain extending to the refusal of a marriage proposal by Lizzy (twice). As Lizzy states in the movie, “Anything is to be preferred rather than marrying without affection.”
By adding warrior skills to the female characters, Grahame-Smith gives the book’s women even more ability to be self-sufficient. It reiterates something Austen understood, but maybe only subtly implied: You don’t need a man to take care of you.
People need to stop think of PPZ as something that directly clashes against Pride and Prejudice. It’s a new, fun interpretation, building on our society’s love for all things Austen and all things zombie. I think one thing that many people forget about Austen is that she had such a sense of humor, which is clearly demonstrated in each of her novels. She also had a fascination with all things gothic, evident in her novel Northanger Abbey. Overall, we need to stop and appreciate P&P&Zombies for what it is. It’s not supposed to be a traditional film. It’s supposed to play on our affection for characters we love, as well as experience those characters in some new way.
Halle spent the first 18 years of her life in Nebraska. Then she spent two more years of her life explaining to Minnesotans that she didn’t grow up on a farm, she didn’t live near a cornfield, and she didn’t drive a tractor to school. She currently exists as a professional juggler, running from class, to her internship, to teaching yoga classes. What she wants more than anything is to adopt a Cavalier puppy, name him Bennet (after Lizzy from P&P, obviously), and spend the weekends snuggled up with her puppy and any 19th-century novelist. If you see Halle without a book in hand, she’s probably rummaging through a garage sale. She once found a J. Crew skirt for $5 and a Marc Jacobs jacket for $10.
Halle shares her own 20-something perspective on her blog “Looking for Mr. Darcy,” (inaworldofwickhams.tumblr.com) and on her Instagram @lookingformrdarcy.